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Stories from the valley

Branding Day at the Ranch

Contributed by Paul Buttner

I recently attended my first-ever “Branding Day” at the LaGrande family’s beautiful ranch in Colusa County called the Salt Creek Ranch. It was a great experience and one I will always remember. I’m told that these are fairly common in rural ranching communities, where friends and family join together to share in the work and enjoy reconnecting with one another socially. That’s exactly what I saw as both young and old came together to join hands in this deeply Western tradition.

Upon our arrival, I was immediately taken back by the sights and sounds on this beautiful spring morning. The hills were brilliant green from the recent rains. Hawks where soaring around in search of breakfast in the fresh, clean air. And, in the corral was a buzz with the sounds of cattle, horses, conversations and laughter.

I observed the event in awe of the talents on the display. I saw seasoned cowboys and ladies roping with great precision and care for the animals. Multiple generations were in attendance from infants in strollers all the way up to their grandfathers who all stepped-up in this well-oiled, community effort to come together to help a neighbor in a day’s work at the ranch.

I enjoyed watching the “next generation” of ranchers in the young boys and girls who are dedicated to this lifestyle and found themselves comfortably in a saddle about the time they started walking. Impressive young ladies honing their riding and roping skills and listening to the old sages in the arena offering their wisdom on how to throw that perfect rope and at exactly the right moment. It was artful, caring and loving all at once. The joy on the proud parents’ faces from seeing their children carrying on these time-honored Western traditions was common on this special day.

Away from the work in the corral, I enjoyed seeing the young boys scripting new chapters of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Losing their boots because they got stuck in mud while jumping the creek. Building their forts with junk from the back forty. Practicing their roping by lassoing buckets, fence posts and, yes, even each other. While it was different for me growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I remembered many of my own childhood adventures as I watched the boys rough each other up a bit and manage to stay out of trouble—at least on that day!

For me, what was prominently on display was the true benefit of rural life for the youngsters. None of them had the their cell phones glued to their faces. No time for that and not nearly as interesting as exploring clear water creeks, horses, roping and all the boundless nature to explore. It is a life that breeds skills development, confidence, participation, respect, work ethic, and a strong sense of purpose and community. I saw very impressive young leaders who will grow up to contribute positively to the communities and lifestyle they love.

After all the heavy-lifting was done, our day finished with a perfect tri-tip barbeque lunch amongst the close-net family and friends that came together, as they do every year, for Branding Day. I drove away feeling as though I had peered into a time machine and personally experienced what I had only seen in old Western movies starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda. However, this lifestyle is alive and well right here in the beautiful Sacramento Valley.